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Pyrenees Cycling Guide

Introduction

The following guide is a compilation of  background, safety and day-by-day routes of the area. Complete with restaurant suggestions and “Points of Interest,” this guide will provide you with thorough, applicable travel information for your next cycling tour through Pyrenees. The Pyrenees represent a much quieter alternative to their mountain cousin, the Alps, yet the beauty is no less stunning. Forming a natural border between France and Spain, the Pyrenees are unexploited and wild, and dotted with peaks in excess of 11,00 feet. Cycle past snow covered peaks, phenomenal mountain vistas, and through areas where the villages are charming, and the traffic is light.

The Day-by-Day section of the guidebook will preview each days route and scenery or points of interest along the way. It’s suggested that you read this before you head out on the day’s ride. Typically, there are three levels of riding each day: easiest, intermediate and challenge.

We are passionate about cycle touring and believe there is no better way to experience the sights, sounds and scents of an area than on two wheels.

Enjoy!

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Background on the Area

Highlights

Our Pyrenees bike tours explore the Central Pyrenees which include the departments of Hautes-Pyrénées and Haute-Garonne.  To the west is the Basque-country and the Atlantic.  To the east, is the Catalan-speaking area that leads to the Mediterranean.

The Central Pyrenees are rugged mountains that traverse the border with Spain.  The highest peaks in the Pyrenees are here – the highest being Vignemale at 3,298 meters (10,820 feet) – and much of the area is under the protection of the Parc National des Pyrénées.  The stars of the area are the lakes, the forests, the snowcapped peaks, the flower-carpeted meadows, and the steep-sided valleys.

Nestled within the folds of these isolated valleys are ancient mountain villages and rejuvenating spa towns.  The culture and the food are rural, traditional, hearty and deeply satisfying.  If staying in Bagnères-de-Luchon, you can even cross into Spain for lunch!

The cycling in the Hautes-Pyrénées is legendary.  The climbs are twisting and long and the descents are fast and technical.  Typically, the roads are quiet and the surrounding countryside is pristine.  Fans of bike racing will delight in conquering passes that regularly feature in the Tour de France.

The terrain in the Pyrenees makes the riding here suitable for strong-intermediate and enthusiast riders.  Tour highlights include:

–           Classic climbs: Col de Tourmalet, Col d’Aspin, Col de Peyresourde

–           Parc National des Pyrénées – a 176 sq. mile sanctuary for rare flora and fauna

–           Remote mountain villages such Saint-Lary-Soulan

–           Ancient thermal spa towns such as Bagnères-de-Bigorre

Add to all this a smattering of hilltop castles, Romanesque abbeys, limestone caves, and high-walled canyons and you have a pristine wonderland for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Climate

The Atlantic Ocean, just 130 kilometers (80 miles) away, is the main influence on the climate of the Hautes-Pyrénées.  In summer weather, the daytime temperatures are in the 70s and 80s.  Evenings, however, tend to be much cooler.  Rain can feature on any day of the year so raingear is essential.

Altitude is another factor in determining the weather.  Temperatures can drop by over 20°F between Tarbes at 1,000 feet and the high passes such as Tourmalet at nearly 7,000 feet.  Snow on the passes is the main limiter on cycling here.  The higher roads are not reliably open until the start of June.  The season ends at the end of September.

The charts below show the monthly average temperatures (Fahrenheit) and rainfall (inches) for Tarbes (the start of most tours) and Saint-Lary-Soulan (the highest town on the route).

Featured Cols of the Pyrenees

The names of many of the cols in the Pyrenees have been made famous by multiple Tours de France.  But even without this storied history, these climbs define the cycling in this region.  Their sheer length, isolation and beauty make heroes of enthusiast cyclists as they grind their way to the summits, tackle technical descents, and repeat.

There follows the statistics for five of our favorites cols featured on our Pyrenean tours.

Hautacam (Col de Tramassel)

From Argelès-Gazost

The climb from Argelès-Gazost to the Hautacam ski resort is one of the toughest climbs in the Pyrenees.  Hautacam first hosted a Tour de France stage in 1994.   Since then, it has been used a further four times, including the final mountain stage of the 2014 Tour.  It was also on this climb that Lance Armstrong set up his victory for the 2000 Tour de France (until being disqualified for doping).  On the final climb, Armstrong went off alone into the wind and rain leaving his challengers struggling, and pushing Jan Ullrich into second place by four minutes.

Distance: 16 KM
Climb: 1,205 meters
Summit: 1,616 meters
Average Grade: 7.5%
Maximum Sustained Grade: 10.0%
Tour Day: Tarbes to Argelès-Gazost

Col d’Aubisque (Eastern Approach)

From Argelès-Gazost

Another regular in the Tour de France, the Col d’Aubisque has also featured as a stage finish in the Vuelta a España.  From Argelès-Gazost, the climb includes an intermediate summit at Soulor.  After Soulor, the grade eases a little before steepening again towards the top of the final climb.  The col is known for its beauty and includes a run along the cliffs of the Cirque du Litor where there are two short, narrow tunnels.  There is a café at the summit that is popular with cyclists.

Distance: 30 KM
Climb: 1,247 meters
Summit: 1,709 meters
Average Grade: 4.1%
Maximum Sustained Grade: 8.5%
Tour Day: Argelès-Gazost Loop Day

Col du Tourmalet (Western Approach)

From Luz-Saint-Sauveur

A Cat HC climb that connects the Vallées des Gaves to the west with Vallée de Campan to the east.  This is one of the most famous cols in France and the most used climb in the Tour de France with more than 80 appearances.  It is the highest paved mountain pass in the French Pyrenees.  There is a café and monument – Géant au Col du Tourmalet – at the summit.

Distance: 19 KM
Climb: 1,404 meters
Summit: 2,115 meters
Average Grade: 7.4%
Maximum Sustained Grade: 10.2%
Tour Day: Argelès-Gazost to Bagnères-de-Bigorre

Col d’Aspin

From Sainte Marie de Campan

The Col d’Aspin connects Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, in the upper Adour valley, with Arreau, on the River Neste.  Compared with the neighboring Tourmalet, this is considered an “easy” climb with only the last five kilometers, at about 8%, being “difficult.”  Since 1910, this col has been included in the Tour de France over 70 times.  Its prominence is largely due to the fact that it links the mighty Tourmalet and the classic Col de Peyresourde.  In the 1950 Tour, there was an altercation at the pass, with bottles and stones being thrown at the riders.

Distance: 13 KM
Climb: 642 meters
Summit: 1,489 meters
Average Grade: 5.0%
Maximum Sustained Grade: 8.3%
Tour Day: Bagnères-de-Bigorre to Saint-Lary-Soulan

Col de Peyresourde

From Avajan (or Armenteule)

The Col de Peyresourde was first used in the Tour de France in 1910 and has appeared frequently ever since.  The col was crossed twice in the 2012 Tour de France, firstly on Stage 16 from Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon and again on the following day with the stage continuing on to the ski station at nearby Peyragudes.  It was used again in the 2016 Tour de France on Stage 8, from Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon, which saw eventual race winner Chris Froome make a daring descent attack from the top of the Col that caught many of his main rivals off guard, resulting in a solo stage victory.  For more casual riders, there is a small hut selling tasty crêpes at the top of the col.

Distance: 10 KM
Climb: 659 meters
Summit: 1,569 meters
Average Grade: 6.9%
Maximum Sustained Grade: 11.0%
Tour Day: Saint-Lary-Soulan to Bagnères-de-Luchon

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Towns and Cities

Argelès-Gazost

Overview

At 460 meters above sea level and surrounded by mountains, Argelès-Gazost is one of the gateway towns into the Pyrenees.  The village is well cared for with many flower beds, panoramic terraces, and fountains.  The Tuesday morning market is the oldest of the valley and includes local fare such as sheep’s cheese, honey, blueberries, and plentiful charcuterie.

Argelès-Gazost was originally founded in 1824 by the merger of two villages: Ourout and Vieuzac.  In the 1880s it developed as a spa town when a local entrepreneur installed a cast-iron pipe to deliver waters to the town from the thermal springs in the village of Gazost, 21 kilometers away.

With a population of under 4,000, the town is small and intimate and can be easily navigated on foot.  The town has a casino, an English-style park, an old town, and the Parc Animalier des Pyrénées.  This last attraction is located at the southern end of town and houses a number of regional animals in a semi-wild environment.  Animals include squirrels, marmots, otters, foxes, wolves, ibex, mouflons, and brown bears.

As one of the gateway towns for the Pyrenees, in summer, the town is typically abuzz with hikers, cyclists, and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Eating & Drinking

Au fond Du Gosier serves good, seasonally-authentic regional cooking in a cozy setting.  Service can be a little slow so not a good choice if you are in a hurry.  Located down a small side street at 7 Rue du Capitaine Digoy, Angle Passage du Parc.  +33 5 62 90 13 40 / www.aufonddugosier.fr.  Closed Monday.

La Table d’Ayzi, serves good, simple, family meals – beautifully cooked.  Much of the produce is from their own farm.  Simple food/friendly service.  Located on the D921b main road through town – outside of the center – at 5 Rue Pasteur.  +33 5 62 94 56 21.  Dinner only on Fri & Sat.  Closed Sun. But sometime open on other days in high season.

For pizza, French style, try La Forge.  The food is simple and reasonable.  In the center of town with outside seating at 3 Place du Foirail.  +33 5 62 97 52 55.  Closed Tues.

If you are staying at Le Viscos (and even if you are not), we would suggest eating at Le Viscos Restaurant on at least one night.  Their restaurant is one of the best in the area.  The aim of this family-owned-and-run restaurant is to help you discover the local products through traditional recipes served with modern flare.  The food is exceptional and the service attentive.  There is also a pleasant terrace with views of the mountains.  Located in the small village of Saint-Savin in the Le Viscos Hotel at Rue Lamarque.  +33 5 62 90 13 40 / www.hotel-leviscos.com/restaurant.  NOTE: The restaurant is 3½ kilometers south of Argelès-Gazost.

Sites and Things to Do

Sites

Parc Animalier Des Pyrenees open 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM ((7:00 PM in July & August) located at 60 B Avenue des Pyrenees, Ayzac-Ost.  +33 5 62 97 91 07 / www.parc-animalier-pyrenees.com.

Market

Market day is Tuesday (morning).

Useful Contacts

Tourist Information Office

15 Place de la République.  +33 5 62 97 00 25 / www.argeles-gazost.com

Stores

There is a large Carrefour supermarket on the eastern side of town.  Located on the D100 / Rue du Stade 1000 meters from the main road (D921b).

Bagnères-de-Bigorre

Overview

Bagnères-de-Bigorre has an ancient history, having been conquered by Julius Caesar in 56 BCE.  In Roman times, as now, visitors came here to “take the waters.”  After the Romans left, the town went through numerous spirals of decline and growth as it suffered invasion, plague and earthquakes.  Today, however, it is a beautifully, historic Belle Époque spa town.  It sits at 550 meters above sea level on the bank of the Ardour River that runs through the Campan Valley.

The thermal baths and well-being play a huge part in the Bagnères-de-Bigorre economy.  The town houses one of the premier spas in the Hautes Pyrenees – Aquensis Spa.  Some 8,000 people visit the baths each year which are located in landscaped pleasant, gardens.

The area around the town was also famous for its Géruzet marble, which features prominently in the architecture of the town.

Eating & Drinking

On the eastern edge of town, L’Assiette de Juliette is a small, simple restaurant serving beautifully cooked, simple food at sensible prices.  The service is great too.  There is limited space, so reservations recommended.  Located on the D938 heading, east, out of town at 47 Rue du Général de Gaulle.  +33 5 62 91 97 16 / www.assiette-de-juliette.fr/. Closed Sun & Mon.

For a more gastronomic option, Le Jardin des Brouches has perhaps the best food in Bagnères-de-Bigorre.  The young owners have done a great job creating delicious, innovative meals in a pleasant, intimate setting.  Located in the center of town, close to the casino at 1 Boulevard de l’Hypéron.  Reservations recommended.  +33 5 62 91 07 95 / www.lejardindesbrouches.fr/  Closed Sun & Mon.

For traditional cooking and a good-value, fixed-price menu, head to L’Allee Fleurie.  The outside terrace near the river gives this a nice ambiance but you are close to the main road.  Located at on the D938 on the west side of the river at 25 Allée Jean Jaurès.  +33 5 62 92 52 37.

Sites and Things to Do

Sites

Aquensis Thermal Baths and Spa has multiple treatments as well as several pools.  Located at 5 Rue du Pont d’Arras.  +33 5 62 95 86 95 / www.aquensis.fr/.  Open 10:30 AM to 8:00 PM.

Market

The town has a large, all-day market on Saturdays.

Useful Contacts

Tourist Information Office

The Tourist Office is in the center of town at 3 Allée Tournefort.  +33 5 62 95 50 71 / www.grand-tourmalet.com.

Stores

There is a large Carrefour Supermarket just north of the town center near Les Jardin des Vignaux at 26 avenue De Gueruzet.  +33 5 62 91 02 62.

Saint-Lary-Soulan

Overview

At 820 meters, Saint-Lary-Soulan is in the high mountains located on one of the main routes through to Spain.  In winter, it is at the center of one of the largest ski areas the Pyrenees.  In summer, it is abuzz with hikers, climbers and (of course) cyclists.  Local cuisine includes the Garbure (ham & vegetable stew) and black Bigorre pork.

The town was founded as late as 1964, with the merging of the communes of Saint-Lary and Soulan.  Prior to the arrival of skiing, Soulan was a small, rural village in the hills to the west of Saint-Lary and was the location of the first ski runs.  Saint-Lary was larger with several thermal baths.  The two areas are now connected by a cable car.

The SensOria is a spa and hydrotherapy center set among a wooded park next to the mountains.  They have a range of therapies and cool pools.

Eating & Drinking

La Grange is probably the best place for high dining in town.  They have several regional specialties and the service is discrete and attentive.  Eat inside in the cozy converted barn or, less formally, on the outside terrace.  Just north of the town center at 13 Route d’Autun,  +33 5 62 40 07 14 / www.restaurant-la-grange.fr.  Reservations recommend.  Closed Tues & Wed.

At the more informal end of things, Pizza Pic has good salads and pizzas.  In the center of town at 53 Rue Vincent Mir.  +33 5 62 39 57 20.

If you fancy a sweet crêpe or a savory galette head to La Galette d’Or for tasty pancake treats.  Perfect for lunch or a light dinner.  27 Rue Vincent Mir.  Has a small outside terrace.  +33 5 62 40 71 62 /

Sites and Things to Do

Sites

The SensOria Spa in the Hôtel Mercure has a range of interesting thermal pools and various treatments.  Located in Jardin des Thermes on the D223 on the western side of town.  +33 5 62 99 50 00 / www.mercuresensoria.com.  Open 2:30 PM to 8:00 PM.

Market

The town has a market each Saturday.

Useful Contacts

Tourist Information Office

The Tourist Office is in the center of town at 37 Rue Vincent Mir.  +33 5 62 39 50 81 / www.saintlary.com.

Stores

There is a large Carrefour Supermarket opposite the Tourist Office at 2 Rue de Soulan.  +33 5 62 40 12 47.

Bagnères-de-Luchon

Overview

Bagnères-de-Luchon – also known simply as Luchon – traces its roots back to Roman times.  Surrounded by steep hills and imposing scenery, the town has been labeled the “Queen of the Pyrenees”.  Today it is a vibrant spa town with a market, bars, restaurants and gracious 19th-century buildings.  The town sits at 630 meters and is connected by gondola to the ski resort of Superbagnères.  The Tour de France has made the town one of its obligatory stages since its inception.  The local spa includes a natural “vaporarium” with over 4,000 feet of tunnels dug into the rock.  See, Sites and Things to Do, below.

It is said that in 76 BCE one of Pompey’s soldiers, who suffered from a skin disease, immersed himself in the repeatedly in the thermal waters here.  After 21 days (still the traditional duration for a cure) he was completely healed.  50 years later, Tiberius Claude dug three pools and developed thermal baths.  The baths motto was: “Balneum Lixonense post Neapolitense primum” (the Luchon baths are the best after those of Naples).  This is still the town’s motto today.

After the Romans left, the town continued to prosper as it controlled the passage to the mountains and into Spain.  This route was a secondary road on the pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago.

The arrival of the railway in 1873 and the construction of the casino in 1880 transformed the town into a playground for rich and cosmopolitan tourists.  In 1922 the mountain hotel of Superbagnères was opened and connected to the town by a rack-and-pinion railway – making the town both a winter as well as a summer resort.  Today the railway has been replaced by a high-speed gondola.

Eating & Drinking

Le Baluchon serves some of the best food in Luchon.  The preparations are fresh, simple and imaginative; letting the ingredients shine for themselves.  The ambiance is also simple and contemporary.  Located at the northern edge of town at 12 Avenue Maréchal Foch.  +33 5 61 88 91 28.  Reservations recommended.

Le Lova Restaurant is a more traditional gourmet restaurant on the north edge of town. They have a creative way of serving seasonal and local products, and the service is professional and friendly. Good value for money. 12 Av. Maréchal Foch.  +33 5 61 88 91 28 / https://lelovarestaurant.business.site/.  Reservations recommended.  Closed Mon.

L’Arbesquens is a good choice for a no-fuss fondue (or raclette).  They also have excellent charcuterie, grilled meats and salads.  Good value but service can be a little slow.  47 Allée d’Etigny. +33 5 61 79 33 69 /  www.arbesquens.free.fr. Closed Wed.

Sites and Things to Do

Sites

The Thermes De Luchon wellness center has a range of treatments as well as thermal baths.  Your visit includes access to the “vaporium” that they describe as the only natural hammam in all of Europe.  The complex includes 150 meters of caves and a hot-spring vapor bath.  Located at the southern end of the Allée d’Etigny.  +33 5 61 94 52 52 / www.thermes-luchon.fr.  3:00 PM to 7:30 PM (to 5:00 PM Sunday).

Market

There is a market in the town every day of the week.

Useful Contacts

Tourist Information Office

In the center of town at 18 Allée d’Etigny.  +33 5 61 79 21 21 / https://www.france-voyage.com/tourism/bagneres-luchon

Stores

There is a small Casino supermarket in the center of town at 6 Allée d’Etigny.  +33 5 61 79 03 07

There is also a large Lidl supermarket north of town on the D125 at 8 Rue Clément Ader.  +33 800 90 03 43.

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Day-by-Day

Tarbes to Argelès-Gazost

Overview

Your trip starts with a van transfer to the rural hamlet of Ibos – 6 miles west of Tarbes and 100 miles southwest of Toulouse.  You ride south from the 14th-century church in the center of the village along small lanes that wind through rolling farmland.  The horizon is broken by a patchwork of small woodlands and, in the distance, you can see the snow-capped Pyrenees.   En route you pass though remote villages; typically, just a cluster of houses with a church and a manor.

TarbesYour overnight town is Argelès-Gazost – one of several spa towns you will visit during your Pyrenean tour.  At 1,500 feet above sea level and surrounded by mountains, Argelès-Gazost is one of the gateway towns into the Pyrenees.  The village is well cared for with many flower beds, panoramic terraces, and fountains.  The Tuesday market is the oldest of the valley and includes local fare such as sheep’s cheese, honey, blueberries, and plentiful charcuterie.

Route Options

Intermediate Route

As you skirt around the pilgrimage town of Lourdes, you enter the foothills of the Pyrenees and enjoy the first climbs of the tour.  These initial climbs are modest for the area and give you an opportunity to “find your legs.” At approximately 25 KM you pass Château fort des Angles which is a fortress from the 13th/14th Century.

This route takes you into Argelès-Gazost along a rails-to-trails bike path, La Voie Verte des Gaves, paralleling the fast-flowing Gave de Pau river.  The hills close in on either side of the river and you glimpse the peaks that lie ahead.

We recommend lunch today in Juncalas at the Auberge de Castelloubon around 32 KM or as you join the cycle route after Lourdes at around 38 KM.

Challenge Route

The Challenge route follows the intermediate route to Argelès-Gazost from where it heads east up the famous Hautacam climb.

The ascent, to the small ski resort of Hautacam, is just 8 miles but the frequent changes in gradient makes it very challenging.  However, once you clear the tree line, the views are spectacular making the effort all the more rewarding.

Lunch

Where you lunch will depend largely on the route you choose.  See the route summaries above for the best towns for lunch on each route option.

Juncalas: Auberge de Castelloubon. Serving simple, generous, local dishes. +33 5 62 42 39 97. Address: 93 Rue de Castelloubon, 65100 Juncalas, France. Open every day in summer.

Lugagnan: Restaurant L’instant Vert, a small Café at around 38km on the cycle route. Very popular with cyclists, serving simple hearty meals.

Lugagnan: Hôtel des 3 vallées, on route at 38km. Delicious, hearty meals. +33 5 62 94 73 05. Address: 12 Rue Davantaygue, 65100 Lourdes, France. Open every day in summer.

Hautacam: Auberge Le Bouic, at approximately 46km. A warm welcome, serving delicious, fresh local dishes. +33 5 62 97 92 53. Address: Auberge Le Bouic, Pyrénées National Park, 23 Route du Hautacam, 65400 Ayros-Arbouix, France. Closed Mondays & Tuesdays.

Points of Interest en Route

Stores

Ibos ‘Vival by Casino’ village shop is on your RHS as you roll out of the village.

In Ossun there is a Boulangerie Marquis Christophe. Address: 3 Rue du Ctre, 65380 Ossun, France. +33 5 62 32 17 72.

Sights

Ibos Church. Listed as an historic monument in 1875. On the outside, the Collegiate Church of Ibos is characterised by its monumental chevet with a pinnacle and square bell-tower with a clock at the front. You enter through a stone porch, which stands out with a more modern look. Inside is a nave in the Languedocian style. This dates from the late 14th century and is the oldest part of the building. Open for visits from Monday to Friday, free entry.

Col de Lingous. A gentle climb to begin your tour, 8km in length and an average of 4%.

La Voie Verte Des Gaves, the disused railway-turned paved path. The total course is nearly 20km long and goes through Lourdes, Lugagnan, Ger, Geu and many other interesting towns.

Hautacam and Col de Tramassel. See the section on ‘Featured Cols of the Pyrenees’ for more information.

Château fort des Angles. A fortress from the 13th/14th Century that was saved in 1980 by the current owners. Open Monday-Friday. Address: 8 Chemin du Hayet, 65100 Les Angles, France. Open Monday-Friday.

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Argelès-Gazost Loop Day

Overview

Col_d’AubisqueToday’s riding takes you into the Pyrenees National Park – a sanctuary for flora and fauna that stretches for 60 miles along the French border with Spain.  This is one of the last pockets of true wilderness left in France.  Shepherding and farming here has changed little in the last 100 years.  The park is also home to some impressive mountain peaks including Vignemale at 10,820 feet.

The riding can be as arduous as you choose – with Intermediate, Challenge, and Epic routes.

Route Options

Intermediate Route

The Intermediate route also takes you deep into the Pyrenees National Park: to the Lac d’Estaing situated at the top of the valley at an altitude of 3,800 feet.

From Saint-Savin you turn into the side of the valley and start climbing up towards the Lac d’Estaing. From this straight/left turn it is a simple ‘out and back’ ride up to the lake, but one well worth doing. [If you would rather have a shorter loop today, take the right turn to Bun – to stay on the D13 – around 6.5 KM.  This puts you on the return route.]

On the ride up to the lake, you pass traditional stone barns and open pastureland.  On the lake, at the top of the climb, there is a café that makes a great lunch stop.  From the lake, you descend directly back to Argelès-Gazost via the village of Bun.  If you get to the lake and want a little more climbing, turn left at 15.5 KM in the village of Estaing onto the D603.  This takes you over the Col des Bordères.  After descending, a right on the D105 and then another right onto the D918 will take you back into Argelès-Gazost.

Challenge Route

The Challenge route is equally stunning to the Epic route but with slightly less climbing and half the mileage; it “avoids” the Col d’Aubisque and the long descent down to Asson.

The exit out of Argelès-Gazost is the same as the Intermediate Route; through Saint-Savin. The climb over the Col des Bordères is beautifully quiet and remote. The climb up to the Col de Soulor is a steady, difficult climb but very rewarding. NOTE: The top of the Col de Soulor, you have the option to do an ‘out-and-back’ to the top of Col d’Aubisque.

As you start to descend from the Col de Soulor, take a moment to look left across the valley to see the stunning ‘Cirque du Litor’: a narrow ledge cut into the side of the sheer mountain wall – with a vertiginous drop.  After descending from Soulor, and passing through the village of Ferrières, you tackle the Col de Spandelles.  This is a scenic valley with open views and hairpins.  From the col, is a rolling descent back into Argelès-Gazost.

 Epic Route

The Epic ride takes you on a mountainous adventure over three high cols – Bordères, Soulor, and Aubisque – and down to Asson in the Ouzom Valley.  The riding is literally breath-taking as are the views.  Small lanes twist up the side of snow-capped mountains.  Sheep and goats roam freely across the unfenced valleys.  On the lower slopes, you may well see a farmer raking hay by hand or tending to dry-stone walls.This route follows the Intermediate Route to the top of the Col de Soulor.  After a short respite, you climb up to the top of the Col d’Aubisque with its iconic bike sculptures.  You then enjoy a 10-kilometer descent down to the Ossau Valley from where you continue to descend (albeit it gentle) alongside the Ossau River through a string of pretty villages until you reach Louvie-Juzon.  From here, you head east on a 35-kilometer rolling cruise back to Argelès-Gazost.  After Asson, there are plenty of villages to break up the ride.  The last part of the ride is along La Voie Verte des Gaves, a rails-to-trails bike path.

Lunch

Where you lunch will depend largely on the route you choose.  See the route summaries above for the best towns for lunch on each route option.

On the Intermediate route, there is the Restaurant Du Lac D’Estaing by the lake at the top of the climb. Address: Pyrénées National Park, 65400 Estaing, France.

In Argelès-Gazost as you enter the town on the D918 La Forge. +33 5 62 97 52 55. Pyrénées National Park, 3 Place du Foirail, 65400 Argelès-Gazost, France.

In Argelès-Gazost as you enter the town Bistrot des Pyrénées, Pyrénées National Park, Place du Foirail, 65400 Argelès-Gazost, France.

On the Challenge route, there are 2 bars at the top of the Col de Soulour which are great to grab a bite to eat. For a restaurant, we recommend Restaurant La Tachouère. +33 5 62 42 19 17. Address: Col du Soulor Val d’Azun, 132 Route du Soulor, 65400 Arrens-Marsous, France.

On the Epic route, we recommend the restaurant at the summit of Col d’Aubisque, Restaurant bar du col d’Aubisque. An incredible atmosphere, usually full of fellow cyclists high on the triumph of the climb. The food is good, with hearty options available to re-fuel for the rest of your ride. + 33 5 59 05 10 01. Address: Col d’aubisque, 64440, Béost, France. Open every day in summer.

At the bottom of the col d’Aubisque is the town of Laruns where you can detour from the route (turn LEFT at 51km) and ride in the town for lunch options. We recommend Chez Vignau for a very traditional French meal. +33 5 59 05 34 06. Address: Gabas, 64440 Laruns, France. Open every day in summer. Or Auberge Bellevue, for simple, unpretentious, good food. There is also a nice terrace if the weather is kind. +33 5 59 05 17 03. Address: 55 rue du Bourguet, 64440 Laruns, France.

Points of Interest en Route

Stores

Saint-Savin, there is a small village shop.

Arras-en-Lavedan, there is a butcher and bakery.

Sights

Saint-Savin village is a lovely small mountain village with an interesting history. There is a local legend concerning the name ‘Pyrenees’. In the ancient past, Hercules visited the area, and fell in love with a beautiful girl named Pyrene, who happened to be a daughter of the King of Cerdagne. The king refused to allow Pyrene to marry Hercules, and so the desperate girl ran away. Hercules searched for her, but found her too late: she had been killed by wild cats. Hercules buried the body, and covered her grave with stones, which subsequently became the mountains.

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Argelès-Gazost to Bagnères-de-Bigorre

Overview

Choose the high road or the low road today.  Both are stunning rides through the heart of the Pyrenees to the vibrant market town of Bagnères-de-Bigorre.

Col_du_TourmaletBoth routes end at your overnight destination of Bagnères-de-Bigorre.    The town has an ancient history, having been conquered by Julius Caesar in 56 BCE and since Roman times, visitors have come here to “take the waters.”  The town is also a bustling market town with specialties that include lamb, trout, and cabbage soup.

Route Options

Intermediate Route

The Intermediate route takes a northerly loop on delightfully quiet country lanes through the rolling countryside of the Pyrenean foothills.  There are numerous villages as well as small farms and orchards along the route.  In places, you will be riding a single-lane road alongside a sparkling stream with snow-capped peaks off in the distance.

Challenge Route

The Challenge ride takes you up the famous Col du Tourmalet.  This ride starts out heading south towards the Spanish border alongside the fast-flowing Gave de Gavarnie.  As you climb, there are breathtaking views as the gorge opens up before you. 

In the picturesque mountain village of Luz-Saint-Sauveur you turn east and the climbing begins in earnest.  Towards the top, you twist around the classic switchbacks and realize you have been climbing for over 20 kilometers.  The summit, at 2,115 meters, is the highest paved mountain pass in the French Pyrenees.  The spectacular views make it all worthwhile and the café makes for a cozy rest stop.

From the top of the col, it is almost 20 miles of pure descent into Bagnères-de-Bigorre.  The ski resort of La Mongie, shortly after the summit, has good lunch options.  The café/bar in Sainte-Marie de Campan, at the bottom of the main part of the descent, makes a good stop if you want to break up the downhill ride and savor your achievement.

Lunch

Where you lunch will depend largely on the route you choose.  See the route summaries above for the best towns for lunch on each route option.

For the intermediate route we recommend either starting earlier, with a few snacks in your pocket and then lunching in Bagnères-de-Bigorre or staying in Argelès-Gazost for an early lunch and riding afterwards. This is because this route is particularly rural and doesn’t offer anything in terms of a good lunch restaurant. Both Argelès-Gazost and Bagnères-de-Bigorre have great lunch options. In Argelès-Gazost we recommend either Au Fond Du Gosier for a good gastro lunch or La Forge for a more traditional, French meal. In Bagnères-de-Bigorre we can recommend Restaurant La Fontaine for a fantastic burger or Il Capitello for a delicious pizza.

In Luz-Saint-Sauveur:  this town has several good options for lunch.  A nice option for a filling lunch is Restaurant Les Templiers which serves lots of meat, fish, and mountain food. +33 5 62 91 68 72. Address: 6 Place de la Comporte, 65120 Luz-Saint-Sauveur, France. Closed on Thursdays.

In La Mongie: One of our favorite lunch spots for today are La Mama or Le Schuss. For real mountain food of meats and cheeses. The service is very friendly and the food is very filling.  La Mongie is a few kilometers after the Col du Tourmalet summit.

Points of Interest en Route

Stores

There is a Carrefour supermarket in both Luz-Saint-Sauveur and La Mongie, open every day.

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Bagnères-de-Bigorre Loop Day

Overview

Les Baronnies des Pyrenees are at the center of today’s riding.  The area has thirty communes within 50 square miles of rolling hills.  Each commune is a bucolic mix of small hamlets, churches, green pastures, and timeless farmsteads.  Add in crystal clear streams, waterfalls, and dense forests to create a pastoral wonderland free from major roads or the trappings of Les_Baronniesmodern tourism.  The area has attracted a small community of artists, potters, and other artisans. As this is a loop day, you can be as aggressive or as relaxed as you choose in your exploration of the area.

Route Options

Intermediate Route

The Intermediate ride takes you up onto the ridgeline above Bagnères-de-Bigorre before delving into a magical forest. After a thrilling descent to the tiny hamlet of Banios, you meander back along tiny, single-lane roads through forests and open pasture.  Once back in the Ardour Valley (the same valley as      Bagnères-de-Bigorre is in) you can stop in at the Védère et Brau biscuit factory – there is an adjoining café in a disused railway carriage.  It is then a relaxed ride back up the valley to Bagnères.

Challenge Route

The Challenge ride follows the Intermediate route out to Banios and, from there, takes you deeper into the Baronnies.  There are no extended climbs but the terrain is rolling enough to test the legs.The route takes you through picturesque hamlets and as you ride away from the mountains you are treated to fantastic landscape views of the mountains from afar.  There are many small villages on this route but no major towns.  For lunch, we would suggest taking a picnic or detouring into the town of Capvern.

Lunch

Where you lunch will depend largely on the route you choose.  See the route summaries above for the best towns for lunch on each route option.

In Montgaillard: A interesting option for lunch is Védère et Brau. To revive the old railway line that linked Tarbes to Bagnères-de-Bigorre Védère opened a ‘Salon de The’ (tea shop). The railway station hall is a boutique shop selling local produces and gifts and the restaurant is a stainless steel SNCF DEV car, arranged as a tea room.

Otherwise we suggest lunching in Bagnères-de-Bigorre. The café’s and bars around the main square all do very good lunches coupled with a great atmosphere if the square is sunny and busy. We recommend Ô Begorra for a descent burger and chips. +33 5 62 95 02 06. Address: 32 Allée des Coustous, 65200 Bagnères-de-Bigorre. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

In Capvern (a slight detour at approximately 38km) there is a small boulangerie/café that serves delicious pastries and some sandwiches, you can eat outside if it’s sunny. +33 5 62 39 83 74. Address: 97 Rue du 8 Mai 1945, 65130 Capvern. Not always open on a Sunday.

Points of Interest en Route

Stores

There are lots of store options in Bagneres-de-Bigorre so we would recommend stocking up on your items before leaving town today. There are some smaller shops en route but their opening hours are very unreliable and are often closed from 12pm-3pm.

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Bagnères-de-Bigorre to Saint-Lary-Soulan

Overview

Today you push deeper into the mountains: to the ski village of Saint-Lary-Soulan.  Your ride starts heading south up the Campan Valley.  Like much of the riding here you travel on single-lane roads where you see barely a car – maybe just the occasional tractor.

The village of Campan makes a great coffee stop.  This is a charming mountain village with an interesting tradition.  Every year, during the summer, the inhabitants of the village create les Mounaques – life-sized dolls made to look like the people of the village.  You see these mannequins outside most of the houses.Saint-Lary-Soulan

A little further up the valley, in Sainte-Marie de Campan you climb east towards the Col d’Aspin.  The Intermediate route takes you over the Col d’Aspin.  The Challenge route takes you through the national park and up the Hourquette d’Ancizan – another favorite climb of the Tour de France.  Both climbs have fantastic views and thrilling descents.

After the cols, it is an easy cruise into the ski village of Saint-Lary-Soulan – your overnight destination.  Saint-Lary-Soulan is in the high mountains located on one of the main routes through to Spain.  In winter, it is at the center of one of the largest ski areas the Pyrenees.  In summer, it is abuzz with hikers, climbers and (of course) cyclists.  Local cuisine includes the Garbure (ham & vegetable stew) and black Bigorre pork.

Route Options

Intermediate Route

From Bagnères-de-Bigorre you head south east, into the high mountains. We recommend you stop for coffee in Campan before continuing up to the climb. You can choose to have lunch at Payolle, with a stroll around the beautiful lake, or wait until after the climb and eat in the charming village of Arreau in the next valley.Col d’Aspin is one of the most famous climbs in the Tour de France having been used for the 71st time in the 2015 edition of the race. It has never hosted a stage finish, but has regularly been used to join climbs such as the Col du Tourmalet and the Col de Peyresourde. Much of the climb from this side is in forest, which makes the views pleasant rather than spectacular; although it does open up at the summit from where you can see the high peaks which form the border between France and Spain.

Challenge Route

This route has the same start at the intermediate, but at Payolle you turn right onto the Hourquette d’Ancizan. At the beginning of the climb you pass the Lac de Payolle – a great picnic spot if the sun is out.  The Hourquette d’Ancizan is a newcomer to the Tour de France.  The climb made its debut in 2011 when it became an instant hit thanks to the stunning scenery and inconsistent gradients.

Lunch

Where you lunch will depend largely on the route you choose.  See the route summaries above for the best towns for lunch on each route option.

At Payolle there are many restaurants from which to choose and they are all much of a muchness. We recommend La Campanoise Alain, the first restaurant on your right after the bridge. The food is local and good, the service is great, and you can sit outside and watch all the other cyclists begin their ascent of Aspin. +33 5 62 42 26 15. Address: Serre Crampe, 65710 Campan. Open every day in summer.

In Arreau:  Arreau has great options for lunch.  A great option for a mountain lunch is La Crepe d’Aure.  The food is generally meat focused (even their vegetable soup usually has bacon!) however they also do fantastic savoury crepes. +33 5 62 98 61 00. Address: 19 Grande rue, 65240 Arreau, France. Open every day in summer.

Another option in Arreau is Arbizon, an all-round great restaurant where you can do the ‘plat du jour’ (menu of the day) and either choose 2 or 3 courses. The service is fantastic but generally the wait staff don’t speak much English (as it’s very much a locals’ spot) so we suggest you go with your best French. There is great selection and it is reasonably priced. +33 5 62 98 64 35. Address: 4 route de Jezeau, 65240 Arreau, France.

Points of Interest en Route

Stores

There is a very small village store and cafe in Sainte-Marie-de-Campan. It is a small Vival Casino and has the basics. The café next door Bar Les Deux Vallées is a popular café for cyclists as it’s the split between the two valleys (hense the name) and many people stop here before or after climbing Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aspin or La Hourquette d’Ancizan. Hours are very peculiar, usually 8.30am-11am and 4pm-7pm and closed on Wednesdays.

There is a Carrefour supermarket just outside Arreau on the main road up to Saint-Lary-Soulan. +33 5 62 40 73 65. Address: Lieu dit le plas, 65240 Arreau, France. Open every day 8am-8pm, Sundays 9-12pm.

Sights

Lac de Payolle. A beautiful man-made lake set at the base of Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aspin or La Hourquette d’Ancizan. An incredible beauty spot, on a summer’s day it is a busy tourist spot for walkers and we would highly recommend a break in the riding to walk around the lake.

Arreau market is on a Thursday and is not to be missed if you are passing. It is a farmers’ market held in the covered market in the center of the town and highly popular in summer.

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Saint-Lary-Soulan Loop Day

Overview

For many, today is a highlight of the tour – riding through the Néouvielle Natural reserve to the Lac de Cap de Long.  The Lac_de_Cap_de_Longraw beauty of this climb takes your breath away as does the final altitude at over 7,100 feet.  The climb is a heady mix of forests, craggy peaks, and cascading waterfalls.

Route Options

Intermediate Route

You start heading south from Saint-Lary-Soulan.  Shortly before the Spanish border you head west and enter a narrow valley where the road snakes its way up through forests, past towering rock-cliffs, and dry-stone walls.Towards the top of the climb, the views open up and you see that you are riding along the spine of the Pyrenees.  The road does not go beyond the lake so you see very little traffic.  Your destination is the Lac de Cap de Long – the largest lake in the Pyrenees.  There is a small café at the lake which provides the perfect spot to admire the view and appreciate the climb you just completed.  You return to Saint-Lary-Soulan the same way you arrived – only much faster.

Challenge Route

Riders doing the Challenge ride will first take in a loop east of town that includes the prettily set town of Loudenvielle and the Col d’Azet.  You then head up the Lac de Cap de Long – following the Intermediate route.  The initial, eastern loop adds 25 miles and is on small roads that pass through pretty mountain hamlets.  The terrain is a little more benign than the final climb up to the lake but it is still stunningly beautiful.

Lunch

Where you lunch will depend largely on the route you choose.  See the route summaries above for the best towns for lunch on each route option.

There are lots of options for lunch in Saint-Lary-Soulan. We recommend La Grange (although if you are staying in Saint-Lary-Soulan overnight then we’d recommend dinner there too!). Meals here are expensive but well-worth treating yourself. +33 5 62 40 07 14. Address: 13 Route d’Autun, 65170 Saint-Lary-Soulan. Open every day in summer.

For a lighter lunch in Saint-Lary-Soulan, we recommend the crepes at La Galette d’Or, although the menu is all delicious and varied. +33 5 62 40 71 62. Address: 27 Rue Vincent Mir, 65170, Saint-Lary-Soulan, France.

At the summit of Lac de Cap de Long there is a café where you can buy sandwiches or salads for lunch. However, the opening hours are unreliable, even in summer.

Points of Interest en Route

Stores

There is a Carrefour supermarket in the center of town with the essentials and a little more. +33 05 62 40 12 47. Address: 2 Rue de Soulan, 65170 Saint-Lary-Soulan. Open everyday.

Sights

Lac de Cap de Long. Cap de Long means “the head (of the valley) (at the foot) of the (peak) Long”. It is the natural locus of the glacial lock at the foot of Long Peak. The current reservoir created by the construction of a large dam between 1950 and 1953 includes the former Cap-de-Long natural lake and Lake Oustallat.

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Saint-Lary-Soulan to Bagnères-de-Luchon

Overview

The intermediate and challenge rides today are relatively similar.  Both climb the Col de Peyresourde before descending into Bagnères-de-Luchon.  Both take you past the prettily-set lake of Loudenvielle.  Both give you the opportunity to visit a small hut selling tasty crêpes at the top of the Col de Peyresourde.  At 5,200 feet, this must be one of the world’s highest pancake houses!Col_de_Peyresourde

Where the two rides differ is in the first 20 kilometers.  The Challenge ride heads over the Col d’Azet at the start whereas the Intermediate ride avoids this lump by looping north to Bordères-Louron.  If you are choosing between these two rides, the question is, “One lump or two?”

The Epic ride takes you north out of the mountains along the Neste d’Aure river valley.  Having given up all your altitude, you begin a 20-mile climb up to Bagnères-de-Luchon over the Port de Balès – another pass made famous by the Tour de France.  The climbs start easily enough but pitches up to over 15% in the sections towards the top.  From the top, it is a fast, technical descent down Bagnères-de-Luchon.

You stay overnight in Bagnères-de-Luchon.  The town traces its roots back to Roman times when, as now, it attracted visitors with its thermal baths.  In the 1800s, thermal resorts and a casino were built to attract wealthy visitors.  Today it is a vibrant spa town with bars, restaurants and a natural vaporarium: 4,000 feet of tunnels dug into the rock.

Route Options

Intermediate Route

Descend the valley in the direction of Arreau. As you turn right off the main road you will climb up the side of the valley and if you look to your right there are great views of Hourquette (which you will have descended previously) cut out of the opposite side of the valley.  This road is very quiet and winding, alternating between tree-covered tunnels and wide-open vistas. The route takes you through tiny, remote villages before you take a winding (often sharply) descent to the bigger road to Peyresourde. The descent brings you out in the village of Bordères-Louron, where there are options for lunch before you start the main climb of the day.

NOTE: The route passes through Loudervielle not Loudenvielle, referred to in Lunch Options, below.  However, Loudenvielle is just an 8-kilometer detour off the route.

From the roundabout at the bottom of Peyresourde it is ten kilometers to the top of the climb. As you start climbing on your RHS are views down to Loudenvielle Lake (Lac de Génos-Loudenvielle). At four kilometers from the top of the climb, you get views of the lake again and can see how much height you’ve gained.  This climb is very popular with cyclists and the TDF visits it often. There are a few cafes/bars on the climb if you need a refreshment stop although the crepes from the bar at the top of the climb are particularly good. This bar was raised to the ground from an avalanche in 2015 but has since been rebuilt (thankfully, as it’s a popular cyclist stop). From the Col du Peyresourde, it’s a fun descent into Bagnères-de-Luchon where your ride ends.

Challenge Route

This route makes for a double-col-day: Col d’Azet followed by Col de Peyresourde. Both are Tour de France climbs and used regularly. Directions are relatively simple: ascend, descend, ascend, and descend. We recommend stopping between the two at Loudenvielle Lake for lunch and a rest before tackling Col de Peyresourde.One of the highlights of climbing the Col d’Azet is the unique perspective it gives you of other climbs – notably Pla d’Adet and the Col de Peyresourde, both of which can be clearly made out. From Loudervielle, the ride follows the Intermediate route, described above.

Epic Route

This route takes you north into the flatter lands for a potentially fast, flat 50 kilometers before you tackle the Port de Balès. We recommend lunch in beautiful Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges before moving onto the climb.

This col is a top climb, approximately 19 km long. The first 9 km are little more than a false flat which lull you into a false sense of security. From here, it becomes relentlessly steep with numerous sections in excess of 10% gradient.

Lunch

Where you lunch will depend largely on the route you choose.  See the route summaries above for the best towns for lunch on each route option.

In Bordères-Louron, there is a restaurant in the Hôtel du Peyresourde. This is the only restaurant en route between Saint-Lary-Soulan and the Col du Peyresourde so if you feel you can’t wait until the top of the col we’d recommend stopping here. Food can be a little unreliable but the service is welcoming and the location in the village is picturesque. +33 5 62 98 62 87. Address: Rue la Grave, 65590 Bordères-Louron. Open every day in summer.Col_de_Peyresourde

At the top of Col de Peyresourde there is a delightful crêpe bar, Crêpes & Miel, where you can stop and watch others summit the climb. We recommend the crêpes but there are other options on the menu. Address: Crêpes & Miel, 65240 Loudervielle. Open every day in summer.

In Loudenvielle, there are a few nice restaurant options near the lake. We recommend Brasserie L’Escapade which serves hearty mountain food of meat dishes and cheese. + 33 5 62 43 38 29. Address: Chemin de Rioutor, Residence Les Jardins De Balnea, 65510 Loudenvielle, France. Open every day.

In Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, the Le Bistrot Gourmand, Chez Martine is very popular. Simple food, fresh and hugely generous, the salads are particularly good. +33 6 27 29 08 63. Address: Porte Majou, La Ville | Au pied de la Cathédrale Saint Marie, 31510, Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges.

Points of Interest en Route

Stores

There is a Carrefour supermarket just outside Arreau on the main road up to Saint-Lary-Soulan. +33 5 62 40 73 65. Address: Lieu dit le plas, 65240 Arreau, France. Open every day 8am-8pm, Sundays 9-12pm.

There are a few gift shops and a tiny village store in Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges.

Sights

Lake Génos-Loudenvielle is a true rallying point in the valley, its shores are adorned with trails for panoramic walks, fun activities for children and picnic areas.

Balnéa Spa. At the edge of the lake, behind the glass facade, Balnéa, the spa center welcomes families for play and relaxation in the naturally warm water including pools open to the mountains.

Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges: a stopover on one of the secondary pilgrim ways to St James of Compostela (the Piedmont Way).  The cathedral also contains the tomb of Bishop Bertrand de l’Isle who was canonized in the 13th Century. The site of the Roman city (on the plain) and the mediaeval town are also well worth a visit.

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Bagnères-de-Luchon Loop Day

Overview

Bagnères-de-LuchonYou have three great choices today: ride to the local ski resort, cross the border for lunch in Spain, enjoy an epic ride into Spain followed by an adventure in the forests of the Haute-Garonne.

The first of these routes can also be made by cable car – should you want a rest from riding.

Alternatively, you could simply explore the town or head to one of the thermal baths.

Route Options

Intermediate Route

This route takes you to the nearby ski resort of Superbagnères.  You head south out of town, past the thermal baths.  You will see the sign for Superbagnères as you exit the town and from there you start climbing. The climb is approximately 18 KM and starts fairly covered before opening out into straighter sections with grand views in front of you.The climb alternates between flatter sections, crossing the river and then sharper, steeper sections as you lift from the valley floor and really begin to ascend. The rest of the climb is wide open roads, very steep in places, but with epic, varying vistas of the surrounding mountains. There are lots of restaurants at the top but chances are only one (if that) is open in summer.

You can either have lunch at the top of the climb (we recommend La Luge if it’s open) or descend back into Bagnères-de-Luchon and eat there.

Challenge Route

The main obstacle on this route is the climb into Spain.  After you cross the border you have a fast descent followed by a relatively flat loop back to Bagnères-de-Luchon.The route starts out heading south out of town, past the Thermes. You take a right turn signposted Col du Portillon and begin to climb into Spain. Waterfalls decorate the mostly-wooded road with occasional views through the trees.  At the top of the col, you enter Spain and begin a fast descent into the valley below, part way down the descent there is a spectacular viewpoint with a Tour de France monument commemorating Spanish winners of the race.  At the bottom of the descent, you arrive at the village of Bossòst, which is a good place for a well-deserved coffee stop or even an early lunch. Follow the road through town, with the river on your RHS. There is a café ‘Batalla’ (hotel and restaurant) at the back of a public parking, on your LHS.

After the town, you follow the flat national road for approximately 20 km, mostly along the river, through ‘Les’ and then past a very good supermarket on your RHS. You’ll see road signs directing you back towards France and at the boarder you’ll cross over the river so it then runs on your LHS soon running into a sizeable dam.

Coming back into Bagnères-de-Luchon, the route alternates between the main, direct road into the town and detours off the main valley road and up onto the sides of the valley, riding through hamlets on small, remote roads.

Epic Route

This route starts out following the Challenge route, above, into Spain and then south alongside the Garonne River.  However, as the Challenge route turns west to loop back to Bagnères-de-Luchon (just before Saint-Béat), this, Epic route, heads east up the Col de Menté: a winding, open climb to begin with and then sharp, sheer rock-facing hairpins to finish at the top. At the top, there is the restaurant ‘la Soulan’ which is a good option for lunch, or at least a celebratory coffee.The descent is technical but can be fast depending on the weather/conditions. Part-way down the descent you then start following signs for Port d’Aspet as you wind along the valley floor. The route takes you right, onto the Port d’Aspet (or you can continue left onto the Col des Ares and skip this penultimate col). The restaurant at the top of the Col de Port d’Aspet is a late lunch option.

From the top of the Col de Port d’Aspet, you return the way you came before climbing up and over the Col des Ares.  The descent from the Col des Ares takes you back down to the Garonne River from where you climb with a western tributary – the Pique River – back into Bagnères-de-Luchon.

Lunch

Where you lunch will depend largely on the route you choose.  See the route summaries above for the best towns for lunch on each route option.

In Bagnères-de-Luchon there are many options from which to choose. For an exceptional all-round experience, we recommend Hotel Concorde. There is usually a large selection of dishes which are local and well presented as well as friendly service and atmosphere. +33 5 61 79 00 69. Address: 12 Allees D Etigny, 31110, Bagneres-de-Luchon, France. Open every day.

Bossòst: Batalla Restaurant is on your LHS as you ride alongside the river. Serves excellent, homemade food. Located at the back of a small public parking. +34 973 64 77 06. Address: Lugar Urbanització Sol Del Valle, 0 S N, 25550 Bossòst, Lleida, Spain.

Col de Menté:  There is a restaurant, Gîte Auberge La Soulan, at the top of this col for lunch. A good place to sit and enjoy and watch other cyclists conquer the col. +33 5 61 79 10 65. Address: Col de Menté, D44, 31440 Boutx Le Mourtis.

Col des Ares:  There is a restaurant, Pyrenees Emotions Restaurant, at the top of this col for lunch. There is a simple but tasty lunch-menu with well-dressed salads, grilled “panini’s” and fresh bread rolls. +33 5 61 88 14 67. Address: Col des Ares, 31510 Malvezie.

 

Points of Interest en Route

Stores

There are some small village shops in Bossòst, including two small supermarkets. It’s a lovely town to have a wander around.

Sights

Superbagnères, Col de Menté and Col des Ares are all fantastic climbs to explore today. See the ‘Featured Cols of the Pyrenees’ section of your guidebook for more information.

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Bagnères-de-Luchon to Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges

Overview

Today is the last day of your tour.  For those with time, there is one last Intermediate ride out of the mountains: you cycle through the foothills and down to the Aquitaine Basin below.  Most of the ride is descending though there are a couple of “bumps” en route to keep it interesting.Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges

Your ride ends at the ancient hamlet of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges – designated as one of the most beautiful villages of France.  It is located on a small rise at the edge of the foothills of the Pyrenees.  In Roman times, it was a city of 10,000 people and sat at the intersection of several important trade routes.  Now the population is around 250.  This is where your guide will meet you for your transfer back to Tarbes or Toulouse.

Your guide can also meet you further back along the route, if you decide to shorten the ride.

Route Options

Intermediate Route

Your route starts out taking you east, across to Montauban-de-Luchon and then north paralleling the Pique River along quiet roads.  As you join the main road (around KM 7), traffic can increase but there is a large shoulder which is also a cycle lane.  You soon turn off the main road (KM 13) and climb up to the small village of Bachos on the western side of the valley.You then cross to the eastern side of the valley and climb up to Saint-Pé-d’Ardet.  Soon after Saint-Pé-d’Ardet, you pass a lake on your right, which is a great photo spot with the rock-face looming over you.

As you enter Barbazan you can see Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges straight ahead and right, with the cathedral as a good landmark to pick out.

Lunch

In Saint-Pé-d’Ardet there is a small bistro restaurant, Le Bistrot, which we would recommend for a coffee stop or an early lunch. +33 5 61 88 19 79. Address: 31510 Saint-Pé-d’Ardet, France. Variable opening hours.

In Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, the Le Bistrot Gourmand, Chez Martine is very popular. Simple food, fresh and hugely generous, the salads are particularly good. +33 6 27 29 08 63. Address: Porte Majou, La Ville | Au pied de la Cathédrale Saint Marie, 31510, Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges.

Points of Interest en Route

Stores

There are no reliable stores/supermarkets en route today so we recommend that you shop in Bagnères-de-Luchon for all your ride needs. There is a small village shop in Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges should you need something ‘essential’ when you arrive.

Sights

Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges. Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges was a stopover on one of the secondary pilgrims’ ways to St James of Compostela (the Piedmont Way), and the cathedral also contains the tomb of Bishop Bertrand de l’Isle who was canonised in the 13th Century. The site of the Roman city (on the plain) and the mediaeval town are also well worth a visit.

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Safety and Enjoyment

Your safety is our first priority and should be yours, too! Here, we share some ideas on helping you get the most from your cycling tour – safely and while having fun.

Riding Safely

We have a few simple rules we ask you to follow:

    1. Always wear a cycle helmet fastened securely while cycling.
    2. Do not ride at night or in the dim light of dawn or dusk.
    3. Ride in single file and with the direction of traffic.
    4. Carry identification, details of your medical/travel insurance and emergency contact details.
    5. Sign an accident waiver indicating you are fit to ride and understand the risks.
    6. All cyclists under 16 years of age:
      • Must wear a florescent safety triangle or high visibility clothing.
      • Need to be accompanied by an adult over the age of 21 who is responsible for their safety at all times while cycling.

Daily Bike Checks

Your rental bikes are checked and tuned before every trip.  However, it is useful to do some regular checks just to keep things running smoothly. These checks should take less than five minutes to do.  Of course, if you’re in any doubt or have any concerns, give us a call and we’ll have a guide come out to you.  If they can’t fix a problem they’ll arrange for a new bike.

Brakes: 

  • Do both brake levers engage the brakes smoothly?  This test is best performed first on a stationary bike and then on a moving bike.
  • Are the shoes spaced evenly on either side of the wheel and the brake blocks close to but not rubbing on the wheel rims?
  • Are cables OK – not frayed – and under tension?

Handlebars & stem:

  • Check alignment – does the wheel point forward when the handlebars point forward?
  • Holding front wheel between legs check for lateral movement when flexing/twisting handlebars.
  • With front brake engaged, move bike back and forth to check for any rocking.  If there is movement, the headset may need tightening.

Gear changing.  This check is easily done as you set out at the start of your ride:

  • Check all front gears engage/change smoothly
  • Check all rear gears engage/change smoothly
  • Are cables OK – not frayed?

Chain:

  • If you’ve been riding in rain or on wet roads, you may want to wipe off your chain and apply a little lube the night before.  In the morning, run a clean rag over the chain to remove any excess oil.
  • But don’t overdo it; an over-oiled chain just attracts dirt.

Wheels & tires:

  • Inflate front & back tires to recommended tire pressure which should be written on the side.
  • Check front & rear wheels spin smoothly with little friction or noise and are true (no wobbles).
  • Check there are no loose or broken spokes in either wheel.
  • Check tires including sidewalls for cuts or other damage.
  • Check tires for any foreign bodies embedded in the tires and remove / replace tires as needed.
  • Are the quick-release mechanisms secure, correctly engaged and pointing backwards?

Frame:

  • Check for cracks and alignment in the frame, the headset & the handlebars – especially if you accidentally dropped the bike.
  • Pay extra attention and feel for problems in carbon forks and carbon rear stays where fitted.
  • General check for any loose parts.

Riding Safely

Here are our favorite top tips to help you have a safe trip.

  1. Ride predictably in smooth lines and avoid weaving or wobbling. When you stop – for example to check your map – we recommend that you move off the road. The more people there are in your group, the more important this becomes.
  2. Stay alert, be aware and anticipate; anticipate what other vehicles will do, anticipate what gear you will need to be in after you stop and anticipate the approaching road surface – do you need to avoid gravel, potholes or broken glass? Should you dismount to cross railroad tracks?  [FACT: 50% of urban accidents happen solo.  That is, people just fall off of their own accord.  A little anticipation would work wonders here.]
  3. Be as visible as you can be. Our fluorescent triangles are available to all guests and we recommend that riders of all standards wear them.  [When riding with our florescent triangles, we have noticed that cars give us a noticeably wider berth as they pass by.]
  4. Choose a safe riding position on the road. Stay as close as is safe to the right-hand side of the road as possible but do not be cowed into a dangerous riding position.  For example, avoid riding on grit, or dangerously broken pavement or where you are at risk of being hit by an opening car door.
  5. Obey the law. Drivers will give cyclist more respect, and you are far safer, if you obey all the traffic laws – including stopping at stop signs, riding on the right-hand side of the road and not riding under the influence of alcohol.  [FACT: 10% of ‘cyclist at fault’ accidents are caused by cyclist using the wrong side of the road.]
  6. Ride assertively but defensively. At intersections, make eye contact with drivers.  Assertive riding is easier for drivers to predict, but cars are bigger and harder than we are, so we always try to avoid getting into confrontations with them.  [FACT: 63% of cyclist collisions occur at intersections.  The most common cause of accidents, where the driver is at fault, is the driver’s failure to yield the right of way.]
  7. Check out your bike and make sure you are confident that it is roadworthy. Everyday check brakes, tires, quick release mechanisms, pedals and headsets.  Everything should fit snuggly and move smoothly.  Whether you are riding your own or a rented bike, the roadworthiness of that bike is your responsibility.

7 Habits of Highly Effective Cyclists

[Apologies to Stephen Covey]

As well as having a safe tour, we are keen for you to enjoy cycling and achieve a real sense of accomplishment.  This is likely to include riding within your limits and not exhausting yourself before lunch.  Here are some thoughts on how to stay happy on your bike.

  1. Eat before you are hungry. Even moderate cycling burns around 300 calories per hour so eat plenty of snacks such as power bars or trail mix.  We need to eat in enough time to allow our bodies to process the food and get the fuel to our legs before the fuel gauge reaches on empty.  Recovering from a fuel deficit is very difficult and will leave you tired for the rest of the day.  So, indulge yourself.  [Everybody’s metabolism is different, but when riding extended distances, it is typical to need to eat something every 45 minutes.  A nice big bowl of pasta the night before and a carbohydrate rich breakfast in the morning also help.]
  2. Drink before you are thirsty. It can get very hot on the bike in this area.  As you sweat, you will lose both water and essential salts.  You will not notice the effects until it is too late.  Drink plenty of water before you start to ride and then take regular sips en route.  [A good target is to drink either water or a sports drink at least every 30 minutes.]
  3. Ride at a pace that feels comfortable. Even when climbing hills, it is good practice to be able to keep a conversation going without being out of breath.  This means changing down to a low gear, keeping your cadence high and taking things easy.  If you are a slow rider riding with fitter friends, have them ride at your pace rather than you struggling to keep up with them.  This will also help them avoid sore legs the next day.
  4. The sun can get very intense, especially in the middle of the day so keep your shirt on and use a high factor sunscreen. [Watch for being burned through the gaps in your cycle helmet.  Many of the best helmets have extra wide gaps for better ventilation.  A bandana under the helmet can make all the difference.]
  5. Relax and change your hand position regularly. This helps avoid shoulder cricks or back aches.  Drop handlebars are better for being able to do this than straight handlebars.
  6. Check your bike. A sticking brake or skipping gear stops you relaxing and can be dangerous.  If you are unsure, talk to your guide, who will be happy to help you check things out if you have a concern.
  7. Smile, you are on vacation!

Seat Height Adjustment

Seat height adjustment is more craft than science.  The most important thing is that you feel safe and confident on the bike.  However, getting your saddle to the right height will also help you stay comfortable on longer rides, avoid saddle sores and conserve your energy while you pedal.

Bike fitters can spend hours getting your fit just right, but here are some simple rules of thumb.

  1. Stand and hold or prop yourself up against a wall.
  2. Position the pedals so the pedal cranks are vertical (one pedals at 12 o’clock and one pedal at 6 o’clock).
  3. Get on your bike and place your feet on the pedals. Move your foot so that your heel is on the pedal at 6 o’clock.
  4. When your seat is at the correct height, your leg (of the foot at 6 o’clock) should be straight but your knee shouldn’t be locked (technically, there should be a 25-30-degree flexion in the knee when the pedal is at the bottom most point).

If your seat is too low, it will make it harder to pedal and you may get knee pain at the front of the knee.  Too high and your hips will go from side to side which will make you tend to ride in too high a gear and you may develop pain at the back of your knees.

Saddle Sores

Saddle sores are the great unmentioned subject of cycling.  However, if you have not been riding much recently and start doing a lot of miles on a bike, you may well become just a little too familiar with this phenomenon.

To prevent sores, it’s helpful to know what they are.  Definition: A saddle sore is a skin ailment on the buttocks due to, or exacerbated by, riding on a bicycle saddle.  It often develops in three stages: skin abrasion, folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles) and, finally, abscess.  If it’s not obvious from the definition, it is better to stop the sores in the early stages than try and treat it in the final stage.

The best cure of all is to not get them in the first place.  The best way not to get them is to gradually build up your riding mileage and get used to your bike seat.  Doing rides before you come on the trip will help with this.  Other good preventative measures include:

  • Reducing the friction due to bobbing or swinging motion while pedaling, by setting the appropriate saddle height – see above.
  • If you have a favorite saddle, bring it along and we’ll fit it to your rental bike.
  • Wearing good cycling shorts, with a high-quality chamois insert.
  • Use petroleum jelly, chamois cream or lubricating gel on the chamois to further reduce friction.
  • Do not sit around in damp bike shorts after your ride and thoroughly wash and dry the affected area.
  • A friend who guides extreme mountain biking trips in the Colorado Rockies swears by putting hemorrhoid cream on the affected area. If all else fails, it’s worth a try!

There are pharmacies in all the main towns you’ll stay in if you need medical treatment.  Our primary message would be, if you think you have them, don’t ignore them.

Fixing a Flat

Of course, we hope you won’t ever need this skill – but just in case here is a checklist for fixing a flat – or repairing a puncture in your tyre as the English would say!  If it seems as though there are a lot of steps, you may be reassured by the fact we have seen all these steps completed in just over a minute

Remove the wheel. Sounds simple, but a couple of hints might make this easier.

  • If it’s the rear wheel, first put the chain on the smallest cog. This makes it easier to remove and replace the wheel.
  • Undo the quick release.
  • If it’s the front wheel, you will need to unscrew the quick release a little to get it over the lips on the fork – they’re known as lawyers’ lips!
  • You may have to loosen the brakes a little to get the tire past the brake blocks if there is still some air in the tires. On hybrid bikes this usually means squeezing the brake calipers together and unhitching the cable.  On road bikes there is usually a release mechanism on the caliper itself (or on the brake lever).
  • For the back wheel, you may need to ease back the derailleur a little before the wheel just drops out under gravity.

Let the air out of the tire.

  • For Presta valves, loosen the small nut at the top of the valve and press down.
  • For Schrader valves (like the valves on car tires) press the tip of a tool or stick onto the valve tip.

Before doing anything else, spin the wheel to see if you can find out what caused the flat. If you find it, either remove it now or mark it so you can remove it when you remove the tire.

If you’re very lucky, you’ll now be able to ease the tire off the rim with your bare hands. But to do this you may well need bear’s hands. Alternatively, you’ll need to use tire levers (irons):

  1. Insert the curved end of two tire levers under the edge of the tire about two spokes apart.
  2. Lever back the first tire lever to take the tire off the rim being careful not to pinch the inner tube and so add an extra hole to patch! Hook the free end of the lever around a spoke.  This leaves your hands free to lever back the second tire lever.
  3. Keeping the hooked lever stationary work the other lever around the tire until one side of the tire is completely removed from the rim but leaving the other side still seated on the rim. If a tire is very tight, you may need to engage a third lever.  When the third is in place, the middle one can be removed and re-inserted farther over.
  4. Remove the valve stem of the inner tube first then pull the rest of the inner tube from the tire. Try to keep the inner tube oriented with the tire so that when you find the hole you can navigate back to the same point in the tire and double check that what caused the flat isn’t still embedded.
  5. Look over the external and inside of the tire for damage and embedded debris. Remove any objects.  Then run your finger around the inside of the tire (carefully!) to detect any glass or thorns.  As a final check, inflate the tube and locate the puncture hole.  Check the tire at the corresponding place to ensure the offending object has been removed.  If you skip this step or are just a bit sloppy you may have another flat five minutes after getting back on your bike!
  6. Hopefully, you have a spare tube that your nice tour company gave you at the start of your ride. If not you’ll need to repair the hole in the old tube using a patch kit.
  7. Place some air in the new (or repaired) tube – just enough to give it some shape. Insert the valve stem on the tube into the valve hole in the wheel and then ease the rest of the tube into the tire.  Then ease the tire wall so the tube is sitting in line with the wheel not hanging outside of the wheel.

Now the tricky part.  Starting at the valve, work the tire back onto the rim using your thumbs or the muscle in the palm just under the thumb (actually the abductor pollicis brevis though knowing this won’t help you get the tire back on).  If the last section is hard to get on, try these things:

  • Ensure that the tire that is inside of the wheel is sitting well into the rim.
  • Hold the wheel horizontally against your stomach with the section of wheel without the tire on furthest away from you. Then use your abductor pollicis brevises to roll the tire onto the rim.
  • If none of this helps, use tire levers to work the bead onto the rim. However, if you resort to this there is a real risk of pinching the inner tube and creating another hole and being back to Step 4 above!

Inflate the tire.

As you inflate ensure that the tire is sitting evenly in the wheel.  If not, let out a little wire and reseat the tire in the rim.

When inflated, spin the wheel to ensure there are no bulges or wobbles. If there are, deflate the tire, reseat the tire on the rim and re-inflate.

Replace the wheel. (This is pretty much the reverse of Step 1.)

  • If you didn’t need to loosen the brakes to get the deflated wheel off, you may find you need to do it now to get it back on. A tap with the palm of your hand can also do the trick to ease the tire past the brake blocks.  DON’T FORGET TO RETIGHTEN THE BRAKES BEFORE HEADING OFF!
  • If it’s the front wheel, you will need to retighten the quick release a little after getting it over the fork lips before reengaging the quick release. The pressure needed to close the quick release should be enough to leave a small mark on the palm of your hand but not so much you need to apply all your strength and all the strength of your cycling partner to close it.
  • For the back wheel, you may need to ease back the derailleur a little before the wheel drops into place.

My Customized Itinerary

If you’ve made it this far, there’s likely a Pyrenees cycling trip in your future. We’d love to create the perfect custom itinerary for you! Please submit your request below for a no-obligation personalized cycling vacation to be created for you.

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